Wilfred Bion (1961) explains in his book “Experiences in Groups and Other Papers” that the exchange of mental content in a group (also conflict groups) can increase infinitely by exchanging three basic assumptions with which the group meets: the first focuses on sexuality and reproduction- “pairing”, the second sustains and protects the group – “fight-flight”, and the last one focuses on obtaining the need for safety – “dependency”.
Basic assumptions and group mentality
The three basic assumptions fulfill different needs- “dependency” fulfills the need to be protected and the need for a leader, “fight-flight” provides effective action and power, “pairing” gives hope and expectation after the next (still unknown) savior. There are always two basic assumptions which are dominant in the so-called proto-mental system (of the group), which means that usually the structure of the group and its leader remain the same, but its needs and goals change (Vermonte, 2019).
Group mentality could be defined as the “apparatus/machinery of intercommunication”, which is made in order to enable the group to live in accordance with the basic assumptions. (Bion, 1961:65)The leaders are chosen because they match the basic assumptions. In order to match them, the leader must have some “magical” qualities which inspire awe more than (appropriate) professional solution (Vermonte, 2019). Bion concluded that there are two levels of functioning of the groups – the basic group which functions on the level of basic assumptions, and the working group which functions on the level of managing (and coping with) reality.
Setting and rules of group functioning
The basic principles of functioning of groups are related to the agreed setting of group meetings. Besides the agreement on the frequency and duration of the meetings and the agreement on exclusiveness (permanency of group members) or inclusiveness (the possibility of accepting new members or old members leaving), the group members are mutually bound to the rules of confidentiality, ethical principles. The rules and boundaries of the group are set clearly with an agreement. It is important to mutually recognize the differences and similarities of the members, and at the same time equivalence and respect. All the agreements are accepted by all members before the beginning of functioning of the group. After the applications, preliminary talks are carried out with everyone interested in joining the group.
Types of group work
There are many varieties of group experience possible in assembling the groups according to their forms and purposes:
- Therapeutic group, which is carried out in smaller (6-8 members) or medium (10-15 members) groups. The group functions as an analytic therapeutic group- see the general description in sections experience in the group and basic assumptions and the group matrix.
- Group for supervision is intended for the members of the group to perform supervision of their therapeutic work. The number of group members is between 3 and 6.
- Discussion groups where individual predetermined or ad hoc subjects and contents are discussed. Usually they are organized on the initiative of several members of a similar interest group or field, because they feel the need to share, exchange their views, experience, problems, ideas, etc. They help with a better or wider understanding of a topic or field and at the same time they create a safe space for common thinking and creativity.
- Institutional groups, project groups, entrepreneurial groups. They are organized on the basis of the needs and expectations of institutions, systems or companies and can be related to goals to improve interpersonal relationships in groups of employees, solving problems in the systems, increasing the exchange of opinions and creativity, solving and improving the organization of systems, etc.